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Music

A brief history of the Guvernment Nightclub

Posted by Benjamin Boles / June 6, 2014

Guvernment NightclubWhen it was officially announced on May 1, 2014 that the Guvernment entertainment complex would be shutting their doors forever at the end of January 2015, it marked the end of Canada's largest and longest running nightclub. Its 18 year run would be extraordinary for any bar, let alone one of this scale, but unlike most club closings, this one wasn't a result of the party crowd moving on to the next new hotspot.

"We didn't make this decision," INK Entertainment's Charles Khabouth told the Toronto Star, explaining that the building had been sold to developers.

There had been rumours for at least a decade that the iconic waterfront megaclub would be torn down to make way for condos, and finally it came true. However, Khabouth has pledged that he is working on building an even bigger venue downtown, although it may take a few years to finish.

guvernment nightclubLong before the Guvernment opened it's doors in 1996, the building had already played a huge role in the history of Toronto club culture. The warehouse complex was first converted into a nightclub in 1984 by Tony and Albert Assoon, two of the four Assoon brothers behind the legendary Twilight Zone afterhours club. They named their new venture Fresh Restaurant and Nightclub, but it was not destined to be as influential as the Twilight Zone, and didn't even make it two years.

There's still controversy as to whether the Assoons were forced out or if they simply couldn't keep up with their loan payments, but the new owners reopened almost immediately after in taking possession in 1985. The team behind the Copa took over the spot with entrepreneur Murray Ball and rebranded it as RPM. The main resident DJs Terry Kelly and Chris Sheppard had both cut their teeth at the Copa, and brought with them a knack for bridging the underground rock and dance music scenes.

Chris Sheppard TorontoThe combination of wildly popular all ages nights on Sundays and live-to-air radio broadcasts on CFNY turned on a whole generation of kids to early rave and industrial dance music, and helped make Chris Sheppard into local superstar DJ. RPM was also where DJ Matt C got his start playing big rooms, who would later co-own Industry Nightclub.

Alongside the DJ nights were a steady stream of live acts, ranging from emerging alternative rock bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain (who were arrested for assaulting fans with a mic stand) to even superstars like the Rolling Stones (who played a surprise show there in 1994). That live music side of the venue had expanded in the early 90s, when the adjoining club the Warehouse was opened to accommodate shows that were too big for RPM. It was probably one of the only places where both Bon Jovi and the Cramps have played.

guvernment torontoBy the time Charles Khabouth bought it in 1995, most of the original team had splintered off, and the club was no longer the hotspot it had once been. Rather than attempting to revive the raw rock'n'roll dance club appeal of RPM, Khabouth went for high production values and glitz.

Kool HausAlready a major player in Toronto nightlife going back to the mid-80s, Khabouth had previously owned popular spots like Stilife and Club Z, but the Guvernment was on a whole other scale. In an attempt to cater to a wide range of musical tastes, a number of smaller lounges and bars were built throughout the complex, as well as the rooftop patio Sky Bar. The former Warehouse was rechristened Kool Haus, and for some events is combined with the Guvernment for mega-parties that can attract as many at 10 000 people.

guvernment torontoWhile the maze of mini-clubs is definitely a selling point for many, it's the main room itself that makes the Guv what it is. The ultra high end sound system designed by Steve Dash is the focus of the room, and is the only part of the club that hasn't been replaced in the various renovations over the years. The suspended wooden dance floor installed with it has to be redone every year, but is a subtly essential part of the sonic experience.

deadmau5 guvernmentPretty much every EDM superstar in the world has played there, from Deadmau5 (who played early shows in the Orange Room) to Tiesto, but a big part of the club's identity has long been the sets of Saturday night resident DJ Mark Oliver, who'd previously played for Khabouth at Stilife. His weekly marathon performances are pretty much the only other aspect that has escaped the cycles of remodelling. While he at one point DJed funk and soul in the back room of the Cameron House, at the Guvernment he honed an approach to big room sounds that has kept the crowds coming back.

The Kool Haus has long been one of the only club venues of its size in town for live music, and as a result has been used by most major promoters in town over the years. While fans have been known to complain about the airplane hanger acoustics of the space, most agree that it's still a better sounding big room than its main competitor Sound Academy (now also owned by Khabouth).

guvernment torontoIn August 2000, tragedy struck when 24 year old bouncer Howard Gairy was killed after being shot three times in the chest by 19 year old Quentin Danvers, who would later be sentenced to life in prison. His murder remains one of the more notorious incidents violence in the Toronto club scene, and a sad reminder of why security guards insist on patting you down.

guvernment torontoKhabouth's empire of restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels continues to grow, and his INK Entertainment company is also behind the giant Veld Music festival at Downsview Park. The final year of partying at the Guvernment promises to see most of the world's most famous DJs passing through, and its impending closure will leave a major hole in both the dance music scene and the live music venue pool. 30 years of dancing will finally come to an end January 31, 2015.

Discussion

46 Comments

Racecar Yaya / June 6, 2014 at 08:58 am
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Never been there, but from the outside, it sure looks like a classy place. Better go before they close down.
fallingapart / June 6, 2014 at 09:26 am
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The ground is about to crumble there. The owners are stupid for staying open still. At any moment that building and the Kool Haus(is it still called that?) are about to come crashing down.
AV replying to a comment from fallingapart / June 6, 2014 at 09:42 am
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What the hell are you on about? Proof, or please STFU
Trina P. / June 6, 2014 at 10:21 am
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GUV LUV
Adi / June 6, 2014 at 10:36 am
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Many memories there, going to miss this place! Sad to see it go.
John / June 6, 2014 at 11:41 am
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Mecca for the 905
Italian Stallion / June 6, 2014 at 11:51 am
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Yo bro I nailed so many hos at this place and all my bros did too yo!
Lol replying to a comment from John / June 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm
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You "905" haters are pathetic. Lol.. get a life.
betty white / June 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm
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I'm so old I remember rolling skating there when it was still RPM. Good Times.
CaligulaJones replying to a comment from Lol / June 6, 2014 at 01:04 pm
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Indeed.

On a DNA level, your average Toronto-bred club douche is no different than a 905-bred club douche.

Like a sub-species of sparrow, some of the plumage or the chirps may differ slightly, but a club douche is a club douche is a club douche.

That a club douche would thing it isn't a club douche because of an address is hilarious...
mike in parkdale / June 6, 2014 at 01:38 pm
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while I haven't been there for years, I'll always remember the place fondly. It was such a diverse place for me... Gwar, Sonic Youth, all the big D'n'B acts back in the day....
Grampa / June 6, 2014 at 02:17 pm
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I gotta handjob from a girl in the bathroom here ... remarkably she is now my wife.
Scott / June 6, 2014 at 03:55 pm
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Haven't been there in about five years, but every memory of Kool Haus is a good one... :( Michelle Branch, Joss Stone, Evanescence, Nick Lachey (though I was there solely for his two opening acts, and didn't stay for his set :p), Paramore twice, Liz Phair/The Cardigans/Charlotte Martin/Katy Rose, KT Tunstall...
Scott / June 6, 2014 at 04:06 pm
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Damn, can't edit my original post...hard to believe with all of those KH shows, but I'be only been in Guvernment once, and never been in the "maze of mini-clubs"!
Probably the best part? Because of the design, every autograph I ever tried for there, I got! :) The four or five I didn't get, it was because I didn't try! :D
toronto dude / June 6, 2014 at 07:28 pm
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on the big nights when the whole complex was open it was the numerous mini-clubs that made it so unique with every space including the transition spaces so interesting to explore and experience. was great over the course of a night/morning to party in each space and then greet the dawn from Skybar with a thousand of your closest friends. farewell guv
michael y / June 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm
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Wasn't it a disco at one point called "Wednesday's Child" ??
reformatt / June 7, 2014 at 12:39 am
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good times and memories at the GUV, going to miss this joint.
remember: http://www.reformatt.com/blog/labour-love-2011
annalee orr / June 7, 2014 at 02:29 pm
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It was always fun to see the various music tribal members shopping for "munchies" at the Loblaws store across the street!! I almost ran into Snoop Dog while biking past on my way to the Island Ferry Docks, last summer! He just smiled and gave me the nod. I will miss it as a part of our neighborhood downtown...a good venue for International & Local Reggae music. Saw MANY good concerts there and only a 5 minute walk from home!! Times are changing...I guess...it will be just ANOTHER CONDO now!!
Anthony Joman / June 7, 2014 at 06:48 pm
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Things were good back in the day. Then EDM took over. It is brutal now because of lame bookings. I feel sorry for M+S and Mark. How can you expect credibility when you book Aoki on the regular. The masses must love it cause it is rammed.
Ian / June 7, 2014 at 09:05 pm
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Actually the article is missing an important part, it started our as a club called "Ivan's" which was where "The Drink" (mini club section) was or is located. Ivan's was named after the original owner whose first name was Ivan, it was not doing to well and he invited the Trinidad born Assoon brothers to come on board as partners, when a company named "Ramset" moved out of the their warehouse (where the Guvernment main club area is), the guys converted it to "Fresh". The live act on the opening night was "LATOYA JACKSON". "Fresh" was doing well up to the end, a partnership dispute between the brothers and Ivan caused the demise.
Stefan Caunter / June 7, 2014 at 10:55 pm
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Psychedelic Monday anyone?
paul / June 8, 2014 at 01:25 am
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best place every to party
paul / June 8, 2014 at 01:26 am
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best club ever
ben / June 8, 2014 at 08:02 pm
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cant remember the good time i had lol!!! gotta try make another "trip" in there before 01-31-15
Albert Assoon / June 9, 2014 at 12:47 am
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there is no controversy, we were forced out politics and scamming ploys were used to closed the doors on us. Great article only you didn't mentioned that I was brought in again by Charles Khabouth to head up the Guv with him. The original intent was to make it Toronto's best venue and so it was. I'll say more about heading up the Guv use your imagination and simply ask yourselves why was I there from the getgo!
Random Reader / June 13, 2014 at 11:25 am
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While the Labour of Love and other full facility long weekend parties lost the plot years ago, this place certainly provided some great memories. Some people complained about overcrowding and fire hazards and the struggle of getting stuck between rooms, but I'll definitely remember years of bouncing between rooms hearing every genre of electronic music, and some very memorable sets at that. One of my best memories there was John E playing on Skybar as the sun came up way back in 2002. The Kool Hause, Guv, and Orange Room have also provided some great one off jams as well.
I've only been back to the facility over the last couple years for one off shows in Chroma (aka the Orange Room), but Toronto is definitely losing something special in not having this place around anymore, regardless of whether Khabouth builds something new to replace it.
Tash / September 23, 2014 at 05:33 pm
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"Wednesdays child" from the Greek guys was there first then it became "Ivan's". Then Ivan had key largo w john Pearson and then Ivan left and John turned it into fresh with the new partners. Then it became RPM. Ivan had nothing to do with the assoon brothers. That was john Pearson. And diamond and diamond were the lawyers.
stevee oh replying to a comment from Italian Stallion / December 9, 2014 at 11:45 am
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you are so dumb
Kendra replying to a comment from Racecar Yaya / December 9, 2014 at 04:37 pm
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If you are going because it looks classy, you are going to be deeply disappointed lol
Grace / December 10, 2014 at 07:27 am
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Wow, 30 years, it's almost as old as I am. Kinda sad.
Jason Melroy / December 10, 2014 at 09:49 am
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Classsy? the place is a dump yard. Filled with crack heads.
Ben / December 10, 2014 at 10:22 am
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The place to be was Disco Thursdays when it was RPM. You had to get in line no later than 9:00pm otherwise you had no chance of getting in. Imagine lining up to get into a club before the sun set? Unheard of nowadays! Mind you, last call was 1am back in those days.
Roben / December 10, 2014 at 03:51 pm
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RPM was awesome! Such fond memories....
Rob / December 10, 2014 at 04:48 pm
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I went to so many parties here it almost became a love/hate relationship at one point. Some highlights were The Chemical Brothers live, Sasha and John Digweed at Better Days raves, Dogwhistle Halloween raves, FDCO Event with Rahzel and Scratch Battles(did visuals at this one), Roni Size on stage live trading off playing there top tracks with DJ Die and Krust. So many good times, I guess it was way more love than hate. Sure hate to see it go though, especially for condos. Like Toronto needs more condos?
Devilboy / December 10, 2014 at 06:12 pm
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I must say, the night Howard was shot will always be in my memory. Chad, Foxy and the other bouncers told me he'd been shot when they heard it over their headsets. I'll never forget that. That's one of the only times I remember the lights coming on before 8am.

Met my wife and many fun-for-the-time aquantences. I knew mostly everyone there. From the door crew, to Kevin H (I'll never tell them what the 'H' stands for, to Melanie the shooter girl; Jen the bartender, and who can forget MORGAN (front counter) and the twins from the Acid lounge. I spent 110 Saturday nights at that place. It will be a part of my life that I will miss.

GuvCrew forever.
tylersmyler / December 10, 2014 at 06:47 pm
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All I can say is... PLUR
Ericb / December 11, 2014 at 08:18 am
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R.I.P Howard Gairy. I remember when he was shot. Precious life taken too soon.
Murray / December 11, 2014 at 09:03 am
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Partied at RPM in my young years and worked at Guv for a long time. had some of the best and worst times of my life at Guv. RIP Howard. Think of you often.
Murray replying to a comment from betty white / December 11, 2014 at 09:06 am
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Roller Thursdays in the Warehouse. That was a blast!
Bill / December 11, 2014 at 09:52 am
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Just a bit more history of the space...
Before it was Fresh, the upstairs part of the Guv, "the drink" was known as "Wednesdays Child" a very cool posh nightclub in the days of disco... With a built in aquarium around it with small sharks in it... It was a very beautiful highend club!
Andre replying to a comment from Racecar Yaya / December 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm
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You wouldn't last two seconds in that place, dude. Keep on strollin'.
Chica / December 11, 2014 at 05:15 pm
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JUST SHUT UP AND DANCE!
"mel" / December 12, 2014 at 07:30 am
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Worked there for 4 years and best years of my life. Met incredible people, world's greatest Dj's including our own resident Mark Oliver. Good times and also not so good times when our own "Guv family" who"s there protect us gets killed on duty. A very very sad time and i"ll never forget that day. RIP Howard. Funny story is the day I delivered my daughter 10 years ago,.my first stop with her during the day was to Guv to see Charles and Peter Johns. Going to miss this legend
shakka / December 12, 2014 at 08:06 am
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Many many memories ...i think?! Now come to think of it, i dont remember much about "the guv" dayz lol jk i do know it was a blast and i am sad to see it go....
sebastien / December 12, 2014 at 11:21 am
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The oldest nightclub is Rose Ange Night Club Laval in Quebec. Open since 1978, celebrating is 37th anniversary this may 2015, it's not the largest for sure but one of the smalest with 200 people of capacity, always running from thursday to saturday 22h to 3ham, 24-25 dec. And sunday of long weekend... Music is from '80 to top 40. Look up at the history on the web site www.RoseAnge.ca.
El mo / December 15, 2014 at 07:52 am
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@ Sebastien and BlogTO - Actually the oldest "nightclub" in Canada to my knowledge is the El Mocambo on Spadina in Toronto. Built in 1910 it has been open as a licensed live music venue and nightclub since the 1940's.

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